Pismo Beach City Council on road to new plan for downtown

clambert@thetribunenews.comJuly 17, 2013 

Pismo Beach residents, visitors and business owners will soon launch an aggressive process to define a new vision for downtown.

During a joint meeting Tuesday, the Pismo Beach City Council supported proposed steps toward creating a comprehensive plan to guide future goals, projects and changes in the city’s lucrative, funky downtown core.

Members of the other two bodies at the meeting, the city Planning Commission and Parking Advisory Committee, also indicated their support of the process to create a new vision, though a few wondered whether the city should take more time to do so.

“I understand that it’s an aggressive timeline, but let’s make this happen,” Mayor Shelly Higginbotham said.

Over the next few months, the city will host workshops, small discussion groups, walking tours of downtown, online surveys and other efforts to solicit ideas. Numerous issues, including parking, circulation and use of public spaces, will also be discussed.

Higginbotham also wants to make sure Pismo Beach solicits feedback from Central Valley residents “because they have been the heart and soul of Pismo Beach.”

“Staff’s goal here is to listen, learn and then plan,” Community Development Director Jon Biggs said.

City Manager Jim Lewis noted that getting  input and buy-in from residents, property owners and business owners will be key to facilitating change downtown.

“It is not a plan to tear apart and rebuild downtown,” Lewis said at Tuesday’s meeting. “It is not a process with a predetermined outcome. It is not a plan that hurts existing businesses.”

He later shared some sketches of changes that could be made to downtown, noting they are just conceptual ideas: a new building at Price and Dolliver streets; an arch over a portion of Pomeroy Avenue; more retail and residential uses on Dolliver Street (Highway 1); and a Ferris wheel and amphitheater in the city parking lot next to the pier.

Other residents and business owners also weighed in. Parking advisory committee member Rick Turton said he’d like to see the city extend the boardwalk north to the stairway at the end of Wilmar Avenue.

Pismo resident Sheila Blake suggested the city create a parking lot for downtown employees, host outdoor movies, and install solar panels on buildings that could power lights strung across city streets.

Planning Commissioner DJ White thinks the city should create something to set it apart from any other beach community in the state — some sort of as-yet unspecified landmark, monument or attraction.

Parking committee member Mike Spangler said some hotels currently offer bikes to their guests, and suggested building on that as a way to get people out of their vehicles and into downtown.

“It seems like we treat the cars better than we treat the people,” he said. “We park them right downtown.”

Mike Lee, who owns Cracked Crab on Price Street with his wife, Kathy, commented on the city’s fees that can be paid in lieu of providing parking — currently set at $36,000 a space. The couple wants to expand their seating onto a back patio, but would have to pay $480,000 in fees to do so.

“I think that there are businesses … willing to reinvest in themselves, and I think that you should know that,” he told the council. “I feel that small businesses should be allowed to grow and improve their businesses without being penalized with unrealistic in-lieu parking fees.”

The city’s next step is to hire a facilitator at an estimated cost of $47,500 for the current fiscal year, which started July 1. Then city staff hopes to hold a kick-off meeting later in the summer.

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